Review: We Are The Ghosts Of The Future (Blancmange Productions)

ghostsofthefutureVenue: The Rocks Discovery Museum (The Rocks NSW), Nov 12 – 28, 2015
Playwright: Donna Abela, Vanessa Bates, Hilary Bell, Noëlle Janaczewska, Verity Laughton, Ned Manning, Catherine Zimdahl
Director: Harriet Gillies
Cast: Ali Aitken, Darcy Brown, Emily Eskell, Alicia Gonzalez, Robbie King, Leofric Kingsford-Smith, Michael McStay, Celine Oudin, Laurence Rosier-Staines, Cody Ross, Eleni Schumacher, Eliza Scott, Donna Sizer, Pierce Wilcox
Image by Phyllis Photography

Theatre review
The event takes place in an 1835 warehouse. We wander from room to room in the 3 storey building, eavesdropping on the inhabitants of a boarding house. It is 1935, and in the privacy of their own spaces, we encounter their intimate divulgements and dark secrets. We Are The Ghosts Of The Future, transported 80 years back in time, to discover morsels of Australian life, but there are no indigenous characters in sight and we soon realise that this is yet another history lesson about the European experience of the land that we share.

Written by a group of seven, the scripts are diverse in style, each one brief but scintillating in its own way, with intriguing characters and scandalous revelations to hold our attention. A cross dressing policeman, a primitive abortion clinic, and an “idiot savant” ensure that the goings-on are kept spicy and exciting. We may not witness every segment in its entirety due to the unusual format of presentation, but Harriet Gillies’ direction is intuitive and energetic, with an excellent use of space that fascinates our senses. Hugh O’Connor’s production design and Alex Berlage’s lights are simple but highly effective in their creation of a mysteriously evocative atmosphere. The work is beautifully performed by a committed cast whose confident and idiosyncratic presences provide an engaging, often fascinating show.

It is now the twenty-first century. Telling stories of our past must no longer exclude the original inhabitants of Australia. Their invisibility in our historical memories is a problem that must be addressed, and productions like this are a perfect way to re-frame our self-image as a nation that will acknowledge and encompass the truths as understood by our Aboriginal counterparts. European histories are important in how we see ourselves, but there is a pressing need to react against the ethnic heterogeneity in our theatres, especially when dealing with issues of identity and history. For a brighter future, there is a need for our collective memories to derive from diverse cultures, not least of which are stories by the traditional owners of this land. The ghosts that haunt us should be given a voice, so that the wrongs of the past may begin to be exorcised, and our path forward can then be lived with greater dignity.

Review: Grey Gardens (Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Sydney NSW), Nov 18 – Dec 12, 2015
Book: Doug Wright
Music: Scott Frankel
Lyrics: Michael Korie
Director: Jay James-Moody
Cast: Sienna Arnold, Caitlin Berry, Maggie Blinco, Kelly Callaghan, Beth Daly, Blake Erickson, Sian Fuller, Jenna Keenan, Simon McLachlan, Russell Newman, Timothy Springs
Images by Michael Francis

Theatre review
The legendary Edies made their way into public consciousness through the now classic Maysles documentary film of 1975, Grey Gardens. It was an instant hit, but unlike many documentaries that seem to lose relevance beyond the time of their emergence, this is a story that has captivated every subsequent generation. The last decade especially has been particularly illustrious for the mother-daughter pairing, with the Maysles releasing a second documentary about the same subjects on home video, along with a prominent feature film by HBO, and a Broadway musical paying tribute to the famous eccentrics.

The musical commences in the heyday of Grey Gardens, a time when glitzy parties at the East Hamptons property saw the rich and important mingle, and where social status was the greatest of currencies. It is soon revealed however, that all is not well in the Beale household. Big Edie has been abandoned by a philandering husband, and finds herself left with nothing but the mansion and a daughter desperate to be married off to a Kennedy. In Act Two, we return thirty-three years later to discover the two women in their famous dilapidation. We are bewildered by their spectacular descent from glory to squalor, and the failure of the Edies to explain the predicament only makes us more intrigued.

Their allure is beautifully encapsulated by the writing. Larger than life personalities, frightful circumstances, piercing humour and cruel social realities; all the best ingredients of the beloved documentary have made their way into the musical. There is an abundance of wit for endless amusement and enjoyable tunes that have us entranced, inspired by the stranger than fiction characters and their delightfully curious ways.

The songs are performed marvellously under Jay James-Moody’s direction. Every musical number is conceived with flair, creativity and nuance, utilising the cast’s considerable talents to great effect. Sequences between songs are less successfully realised, with chemistry between performers faltering in the absence of choreography and singing. The production suffers from an overall lack of precision and polish, but it is a show with spirit, buoyed by Beth Daly’s astonishing portrayal of middle-aged Little Edie. Breathtakingly accurate re-enactments of iconic film moments and a thorough understanding of her character’s traits, allow Daly to create a theatrical marvel that is deeply endearing and incredibly impressive. The effect her Little Edie has on us, is little different from what the real McCoy delivers in the original film. We are shocked, confused, saddened but powerfully moved by her extraordinary story. Maggie Blinco and Caitlin Berry play the other Edies (at different ages), both accomplished and compelling with their respective interpretations. Blake Erickson is memorable in the supporting role of George Gould Strong, providing a dramatic but subtly comical performance, accentuated by a remarkable singing voice that never fails to seize our attention.

The production is ambitious with its visual elements but does not quite hit the mark. Lighting design by the inventive Benjamin Brockman is heavily relied upon to depict time and spacial shifts in the presence of a domineering yet inflexible set. Costumes are charming when imitating the documentary’s looks, but they fall short at delivering the extravagant decadence necessary in Act One. On a brighter note, the show’s sound design by Jessica James-Moody and music direction by Hayden Barltrop are executed with great fervour and brilliant sensitivity. The aural landscape of the show is the chief element that takes us through every step of the plot, and it does so thoughtfully, with an effortless elegance.

What the Edies represent, is the notion of freedom, or more accurately the lack thereof. Grey Gardens insists that we consider how the women had arrived at their disappointing state of affairs, and through that discussion, to go on and think about issues of personal volition, kinship and the consequences of forsaken responsibilities. Big Edie’s father, husband and sons had all but discarded our protagonists, and what we encounter is the harsh truth of what remained. We wish that the Edies had been stronger and more resourceful, but the irrefutable fact is that they were deserted and destroyed. We all have a right to live the lives we dream, but we are also bound by the people who need us. We can simply walk away, but the price to pay can sometimes be too great.

Review: Dinkum Assorted (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 17 – Dec 19, 2015
Playwright: Linda Aronson
Director: Sahn Millington
Cast: Debra Bryan, Melissa Burgess, Colleen Cook, Emily Crotti, Bodelle De Ronde, Alison Eaton, Sonya Kerr, Denise Kitching, Gemma Laffan, Amanda Laing, Cassady Maddox, Lois Marsh, Patricia McLoughlin, Hannah Raven Smith, Alizon Vosburgh
Photography © Bob Seary

Theatre review
It is wartime 1942, and the fictional Australian country town of Warrabadanga is left with only its womenfolk to fend for themselves. They find plenty to keep busy with, and thankfully, spend little time worrying about the ones who have gone to battle. They are a spectacularly confident group determined to make the most of their situation, and go about their business in fine form. Linda Aronson’s Dinkum Assorted is an idealistic portrait of our country women. Dynamic, fun-loving , resourceful and optimistic, their strengths encompass the best of humanity, and represent an excellent example of how communities should view themselves.

Although written in the late 1980’s, the script is a predictably old fashioned one that feels faithful to language and presentational styles of the time it depicts. It is nostalgic and quaint, with a sense of humour that would appeal to those who have a taste for more traditional types of theatre. Direction by Sahn Millington brings out the vibrant spirit of all its characters, but the show struggles to captivate. The players are raucous but rarely meaningful, unable to deliver nuance or authenticity to help us locate points of identification or emotional involvement.

There are however, smaller scenes that feature pairings of actors that work well to offer glimpses of poignancy. Amanda Laing and Hannah Raven play wannabe showgirls, whose friendship is portrayed with good chemistry, along with a purity that resonates endearingly. Bodelle de Ronde and Debra Bryan create memorable characters who connect in a scene about being outsiders, both thoughtful and sensitive in their approaches.

It is in hardship that the best in humanity shines through. War takes on a different form in the twenty-first century, but we must only face it with that same bravery and positive outlook. The women in Dinkum Assorted are undefeated because they are engrossed in life, and they shun thoughts of demise. They are constructive in their own town, while the ravages of destruction take hold overseas. It is this simple lesson that our real lives need today. The purpose of war is destruction, and we must respond with the most vibrant and spirited ways of living out our each and every day.

Review: I Am My Own Wife (Oriel Group / Red Line Productions)

orielVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 17 – Dec 5, 2015
Playwright: Doug Wright
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Ben Gerrard
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
There is something unique about representing queer life on stage. Like many minority groups who have experienced persecution, LGBT stories need to create a legacy from hardship and struggles, so that injustices are prevented from recurring, and also for future generations to understand the histories from which they emerge. Unlike issues around ethnicity and religion that can have greater levels of visibility, LGBT identities have a tendency to be subsumed by a sense of normativity. The more gender and sexual diversity becomes accepted, the more it disappears from public discourse. A tension exists between the attainment of equality and the loss of nuances in individual differences.

Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife documents the controversial life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a German museum curator and transgender celebrity, through the tumultuous years of the Third Reich and East Berlin. The play takes the form of a monologue, but does feature a multitude of minor characters, including the playwright himself. As von Mahlsdorf’s story unfolds, we are reminded of Wright’s presence as an interpretor of events, and correspondingly, the ambiguities between truth and fiction in the details being uncovered. The writing is full of charm and humour, with a plot that intrigues at every juncture. Vividly descriptive, we find ourselves immersed effortlessly in its slightly alien but seductive narrative.

Direction is provided by Shaun Rennie, whose outstanding use of space keeps our senses engaged and active, astutely controlling our perceptions of the show’s frequent contextual transformations, in terms of personalities, time and place. Excellent work on lighting by Hugh Hamilton and a subtle but highly effective set by Caroline Comino add greatly to the quality of unpredictability of the viewing experience. Nate Edmondson’s complex sound design is executed with impressive refinement and is noticeably adventurous with its concepts.

The play could however, benefit from a graver exploration into the darker aspects of von Mahlsdorf’s story. There seems a reluctance to portray her duplicitous nature with a stronger sinister edge, and we are kept somewhat distanced by that jovial artifice, perhaps just the way she would have wanted. Ben Gerrard is marvellous in the production. The speed and clarity at which he alters voice and physicality to depict all his different characters, whilst maintaining psychological accuracy and an air of authenticity through every change, is astounding, and very satisfying theatre. The actor exhibits wonderful commitment, along with an exquisite creativity that is remarkably intelligent and sensitive.

I Am My Own Wife entertains and fascinates. It is strangely lighthearted, given the brutalities that appear in the text. The production should hold more poignancy in its observations of war, Nazism and queerness, but as though borrowing from Charlotte von Mahlsdorf’s strength of character, unpleasant parts of the story are diminished with an unconscious ease. There certainly are lessons to be learned here, that may pertain to personal identity or to social concerns, but they require an investment of thought and attention. Alternatively, a very pleasant jaunt is offered by the show, with resonances that last until the inevitably enthusiastic curtain call. |

Review: Dot Dot Dot (The Old 505 Theatre)

old505theatreVenue: Old 505 Theatre @ 5 Eliza St (Newtown NSW), Nov 10 – 28, 2015
Playwright: Drew Fairley
Director: Gareth Boylan
Cast: Matt Bell-King, Gerard Carroll, Lucy Miller, Natalie Venettacci

Theatre review
Dot Dot Dot involves a Victorian era prostitute getting high, a psychic medium speaking with ghosts, a serial killer on the loose, and a newspaperman with dubious intentions. The ingredients are certainly spicy, but the concoction is not always an easy one to digest. In its efforts to provide both entertainment and social commentary, the play struggles with its balancing act, and falls short on both counts. There are interesting characters and fascinating scenarios to be found, but for a show in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre, its plot struggles to deliver the tension and intrigue it sets out to achieve.

The cast of four is not sufficiently cohesive, but actors are individually accomplished. Lucy Miller is captivating as Babette, with a solid and seductive presence that helps sustain our attention. There is a quality of natural and sultry darkness in the actor’s approach that gives the production its eerie, Gothic flavour. Equally appealing is Matt Abel-King, whose portrayal of young men in the late 19th century provides a sense of accuracy to the time and space his characters inhabit. Abel-King is a charming performer, with a whimsical edge that enlivens the stage.

The play talks about democracy today, and the impact upon it by the disparity in power and wealth of our classes. Our media landscape is being sequestered slowly but surely, by a rich few, and their insidious control over the information we receive has unquestionably changed the way we perceive and live our lives. Political decisions are made through a semblance of democracy, but what we believe to be true, and therefore the way we exercise our voting rights and consumer decisions, are largely doctored by the powers that be. It is a grim situation we find ourselves today, and there seems no solution in sight, except for a healthy dose of cynicism, and prudent vigilance.

Review: Orlando (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Nov 9 – Dec 19, 2015
Playwright: Sarah Ruhl (based on the novel by Virginia Woolf)
Director: Sarah Goodes
Cast: Matthew Backer, Luisa Hastings Edge, Garth Holcombe, John Gaden, Jacqueline McKenzie, Anthony Taufa
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando: A Biography was published in 1928, when discussion of sexuality was made in hushed tones, and inseparable from notions of gender identity. If a person loved a woman, they had to take the form of the masculine, and the reverse was true. The centrepiece of Orlando‘s story is a man’s magical transformation into a woman, wistfully described but scarcely explained, though by simple deduction, one could perceive more than an indication of sexual fluidity, and a desire to explore what is now known as sexual orientation. It would be remiss however, to reduce the work to be simply about sex, for its interest in fluidity extends to the whole of a person’s identity, or how one sees themselves, along with how society conceives of that individual.

Sarah Ruhl’s 2010 stage adaptation can be understood as a feminist piece. Orlando’s life as a man is depicted with an extroversion that is concerned with the character’s appetite and discovery of the world around him, but as a woman, she turns introspective and we are presented with constant interrogations about her place in relation to things as the fairer sex. In other words, maleness is seen as an unquestionable natural state, while the feminine requires persistent justification. In dramatic terms, Ruhl’s work is poetic, sublime theatre that uses all the capacities of language to excite, provoke and enchant, and to tell a fascinating story that is strangely engaging in spite of its contextual distance.

It is a humorous text, gentle in its approach, but always charming and amusing with its renderings. Director Sarah Goodes executes that subtle comedic tone with great sophistication, and although the production is seldom laugh-out-loud funny, her brilliant wit is deeply endearing. There is clever use of space, with a relatively small ensemble establishing an active and visually dynamic stage. Comprising two flights of mobile staircases and concentric revolving platforms, our eyes are kept busy and no time is wasted on scene changes, but the production is not strikingly lavish. It makes occasional reference to the well-known Sally Potter film of 1992, but that extravagant beauty, still fresh in many of our memories, is absent from this staging.

Our focus is placed squarely, and appropriately, on the title role’s narrative, but the show features a charismatic four-man chorus that helps with a lot of heavy lifting. Matthew Backer, John Gaden, Garth Holcombe and Anthony Taufa play a wide range of roles in all gender states, and provide commentary in song and narration that moves the plot along in spirited, gay fashion. Backer in particular, is impressive with his fervent embrace of the show’s vaudeville style of presentation, taking the opportunity to showcase delightful comic timing and a flair for exquisite camp.

In the role of Orlando is Jacqueline McKenzie, keeping us spellbound with a delivery that will be remembered for its intelligence, precision and unrelenting effervescence. It is noteworthy that the actor’s interpretation of Orlando’s personality does not alter significantly with the sensational gender transformation. Whether in male or female costume, McKenzie maintains a singular essence, reflecting a modern and enlightened attitude toward the construction of gendered identities. Her unfaltering energy gives life to two solid hours of stage time, every minute compelling and whimsical, keeping us engrossed in the development of Orlando’s extraordinary narrative with her captivating confidence.

The word “transgender” was recently announced as one of Collins’ dictionary’s “Words of the Year”. As Western societies begin to better understand the way we live out our gendered lives, we can recognise that a new dawn in civilisation is imminent, where people will no longer be persecuted for the way they express their gender, and individuals are free to adopt any form of gender identity they wish to inhabit. Hardly anyone bats an eyelid when Orlando emerges as a woman after living thirty years as the opposite sex. We may not share her aristocracy, wealth and power, but we can appreciate the nonchalance surrounding her transformation, and indeed realise the curious irrelevance of something that convention considers so crucial to how we understand life. Feminism is about achieving equality, and in equality, all that we think separates us, can be vanquished.

Review: Mortido (Belvoir St Theatre)

belvoirVenue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Nov 7 – Dec 23, 2015
Playwright: Angela Betzien
Director: Leticia Cáceres
Cast: Toby Challenor, Tom Conroy, Colin Friels, Louisa Mignone, Renato Musolino, David Valencia
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
At the centre of Angela Betzien’s Mortido, is a wretched life. Jimmy is a soft and kind soul, misguided by family and exploited by every person he trusts. Emerging into adulthood from a background of poverty and addiction, the only barometer he possesses for a better life is a need for acceptance, along with our definitive measure of success, money. Without the support of anyone who has Jimmy’s own interests at heart, and with no education to speak of, his fate is sealed, and doomed. The story is a dark one about the underbelly of Sydney, and how our affluence is built upon the perpetuation of an underclass, kept aspirational and concurrently ignorant.

Betzien’s script is highly ambitious and vast in scope. It encompasses themes of family, money and addiction, set against historical contexts, to explore attitudes and machinations of our current sociopolitical environment. The play looks at our problems with narcotics and poverty from micro and macro perspectives, refusing to diminish their complex enormity for convenient storytelling. What results is a piece of writing that is detailed and intricate, but also challenging, for audiences and theatre makers alike.

Director Leticia Cáceres does well at providing the production with tension and intrigue, but the plot’s clarity suffers from that tautness of pace. In its second half especially, too much is revealed too quickly, and our minds struggle to process every poignancy. Each revelation is an important one that contributes, not only to our appreciation of each character’s circumstances, but also to our understanding of the real world. Many of the story’s elements will resonate deeply if given the chance, but the show seems to rush quickly past and we are left wondering if we had learned everything that is worth knowing.

Nevertheless, Mortido is gripping, and very exciting, with each scene holding surprises, frequently overwhelming with its keen portrayal of brutality, both physical and psychological. Composer The Sweats and Sound Designer Nate Edmondson do exceptional work with their manipulations of atmosphere. The production relies heavily on its sounds to control our responses, and the precision at which it guides our emotions through every sequence and transition is remarkable. A disappointing contrast does occasionally occur however, when it takes a back seat, leaving the actors to their own devices, and we begin to feel the emptiness of space.

There is plenty of impressive acting to be found, including the very young but very compelling Toby Challenor, whose immovable focus on each task in every appearance, belies his tender age. Colin Friels plays several disparate characters, displaying a good level of versatility and enthusiasm, but is probably most effective as Detective Grubbe and El Carnicero. The star’s presence is undeniable and the intensity he brings to the stage has an effortless drama that is absolutely captivating. The central character Jimmy is performed by Tom Conroy with a faultless vulnerability. For all of Jimmy’s regrettable mistakes, we are always on his side, hurting for his every adversity and hoping that a twist of fate appears. Conroy excels in the role, successfully depicting Jimmy’s personal difficulties as well as the social connotations of a problematic life. We understand the responsibilities that are due young people like Jimmy, and realise how we have failed those who share his disadvantage. Also noteworthy is David Valencia as the enigmatic Spanish-speaking El Gallito, memorable for his simultaneous delivery of danger and ethereality, and an aggressive sex appeal that electrifies the stage.

The title of the work refers to our human tendencies toward self-destruction. It is a discussion about weakness, and along with that, we encounter ideas surrounding ethics, responsibility and social harmony. Mortido is a cautionary tale about the seduction of death, and the perils involved when allowing lives to be less than honourable. It confronts the inequity that exists in our wealthy cities, and our complicity in maintaining that damaging status quo. We can always identify good from bad, but we do not always make the right decisions.

Review: Roadkill Confidential (Lies, Lies And Propaganda)

liesliesVenue: Kings Cross Theatre Kings Cross NSW), Nov 11 – 28, 2015
Playwright: Sheila Callaghan
Director: Michael Dean
Cast: Alison Bennett, Sinead Curry, Michael Drysdale, Jasper Garner Gore, Nathaniel Scotcher
Image by Emily Elise

Theatre review
Trevor is not a happy artist. She watches the doom and gloom on the news to stay in touch with things so that her very high profile work in the field of visual art may be relevant to her public. In fact, her studio is highly secretive, maybe she is insecure about the unfinished product, or maybe she is trying to control the reaction to her controversial art. Meanwhile, a government agent is investigating her, and everything begins to look sinister. Sheila Callaghan’s Roadkill Confidential is however, no straightforward cop drama. It is an abstract and often surreal piece of writing that celebrates the dramatic art form by prioritising the stage’s unique abilities of relating to its audience. Beyond the use of a narrative to satisfy, the play features sequences that resonate independent of characters and stories. Its free form allows actors to create moments of wonder, in service of theatre and all its possibilities.

Michael Dean’s exuberant direction is concerned with creating an experience that fascinates and intrigues. The show’s plot is not always coherent, and we leave with uncertainty about the moral of the story, but there is much to get involved with at every step of the way. Lights by Richard Neville and Mandylights, along with Benjamin Garrard’s sound are playful and dynamic elements of a production that is determined to deliver whimsy and extravagance. Creativity is in abundance here, and there is little that holds it back from making its ubiquity felt in every nuance.

Performances are suitably colourful, from a committed ensemble, unified in style and tone. The charming Michael Drysdale plays the unnamed agent with a quirky flair, and a confident physicality that brings life to the stage. His work needs better polish to reflect a more precise grasp of the text, but Drysdale’s execution of the show’s anti-realistic scenes are consistently amusing, and memorable. The artist Trevor is depicted with admirable strength and vigour by Alison Bennett who introduces an alluring severity to the mysterious role. Her piteous neighbour Melanie becomes a force to be reckon with under Sinead Curry’s surprising interpretation. The actor’s flamboyant approach and magnetic presence provide her character with excellent entertainment value, and offers good balance to a show that has a tendency to bewilder.

There is no discussion about whether Trevor’s new work will be understood, yet its effects are gravely anticipated. We need to talk about theatre in a similar way; to allow it to do more than just telling stories. There is no fear of abstraction in this production of Roadkill Confidential because it believes in affecting its audience in a more inventive or perhaps, sophisticated manner. At the theatre, we share a space for a couple of hours, and when we go our separate ways, we will depart having grown a little. It is by that amount of extension that we can measure an artist’s worth.

Review: Round Heads And Peak Heads (Actors College Of Theatre & Television)

acttVenue: Bondi Pavilion (Bondi NSW), Nov 5 – 9, 2015
Playwright: Bertolt Brecht
Director: Lex Marinos
Cast: Simon Benjamin, Campbell Briggs, Alex Brown, Cait Burley, Sarah Anne Carter, Abbie Coco, Keegan Fisher, Joseph Hallows, Reilly Anne Keir, Richard Littlehales, Angelika Nieweglowski, Jake Scherini, Amy Shapiro, Romney Stanton

Theatre review
Bertolt Brecht premiered Round Heads And Peak Heads in 1936, when Hitler was leading Germany. The play talks about racial persecution, without specifically naming the Jews, and how ethnic minorities are used as a scapegoat of sorts for people in positions of power. It explores the dynamics between greed and justice in a way that is not far different from discourse today, although its cautious language (as a result of censorship) is certainly much more indirect than we are used to.

The production, directed by Lex Marinos, is an energetic one, with variations in texture that occupy our senses, but a more explicit adaptation to current political climes and social concerns would make it more engaging. Performances are uneven in the 14-strong cast, with some talents outweighing others. Cait Burley is a striking Isabella De Guzman, with intense and raw emotion accompanying a studied physicality that displays a daring adventurous spirit. Romney Stanton and Campbell Briggs have interesting roles that they sink their teeth into, both providing colourful portrayals energised by impassioned creativity. Also noteworthy are Angelika Nieweglowski and Alex Brown, who exhibit interesting presences and excellent commitment to their charmingly idiosyncratic roles.

Life is often not fair. Ability does not guarantee success, and hard work does not always see commensurate returns. We exist in predetermined structures that will identify and subjugate the weak, but fortunately in this lucky country, some semblance of democracy exists, and individuals are able to attain their heart’s desires against all odds. What the secret ingredients are, is anyone’s guess, but it is the very definition of success that needs to be evaluated and re-evaluated every step of the way.

Review: Good Works (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlotheatreVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Oct 31 – Nov 29, 2015
Playwright: Nick Enright
Director: Iain Sinclair
Cast: Taylor Ferguson, Lucy Goleby, Anthony Gooley, Stephen Multari, Jamie Oxenbould, Toni Scanlan
Image by Helen White

Theatre review
In Nick Enright’s Good Works, we are often confused about time and characters. It is a deliberate ploy to have us focus on what people are doing to each other, regardless of when things had taken place or who those people might be. It probes us to consider if contexts matter when we are unkind. It talks about how we treat children, and how behaviour is perpetuated beyond the illusion of growing up. The play’s plot structure is perhaps its most interesting feature. The story and its themes are not unusual or spectacular, but through its highly inventive way of communication, we are required to relate to its ideas on a level of intimacy. If we do not have certainty about characters, we can only understand events by applying them conceptually, to our selves.

Director Iain Sinclair’s construction of space through Hugh O’Connor’s complex multi-tiered platforms is theatrical magic. The constant profusion of movement, visual depth and dimension is an aesthetic joy, and also an effective mechanism for providing demarcation for minute scene transitions. Sinclair’s knack for creating dramatic tension and his ability to extract meaning from them, ensures that the play unfolds with a gravity necessary for its poignant messages to hit home.

It is a strong cast that presents this challenging work. Each player is required to embody a range of ages and personalities, and although not every scene is equally powerful, there is no questioning the authenticity and thoughtfulness of their approach to individual parts. Lucy Goleby leaves an impression with studied stillness on a stage buzzing with energetic activity. Her eyes are, on more than one occasion, our sole focus as they convey quiet but intense emotion. Taylor Ferguson brings remarkable exuberance and strength to a character who faces multiple setbacks. The resilience and fallibility of humanity that she demonstrates is touching, and beautiful.

There is not much point to life if we do not try to do good, but Good Works shows us the conflict and complications that occur in communities when flawed individuals try to do their best within their inevitable limitations. We examine how it is that we can come to conclude which decisions are best, without resorting to convenient solutions that religions are keen to provide, and we question if there is possibility for behaviour to be anything else than emulation. Whether Enright’s play is pessimistic or otherwise, would depend heavily on one’s own outlook on life.